Do you include layover stops as part of your ‘country count’?
Typically I would not, but I have listed the Netherlands as a place I’ve visited since I did spend a total of about 12 hours in Amsterdam over the course of two daytime layovers during my trips back home from Tanzania and Uganda.
It’s easy make a visit to Amsterdam if you have a reasonably lengthy layover. I managed to spend some quality time in the city with each 6 hour layover, and would recommend this as the minimum duration needed to make it worthwhile for a trip out of Schiphol Airport.
For those without quite enough time, there is a Yotel Air that some of my colleagues have used. I can’t say much more about it, but it looks nice and convenient for a shower and brief snooze.
Do you need a visa?
No, if you are staying for less than 90 days and carry a passport from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or a few other eligible countries. Nationals from countries part of the European Union are also exempt. I won’t get into this further as the Schengen Visa Advisor can provide quick guidance on requirements for entering the Netherlands. Bottom line, we breezed through customs and most western travellers will find it easy to exit the airport as long as they have allocated their time accordingly.
Getting to the city
We found the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) train to be the most efficient way to get to Amsterdam city centre. From Schiphol station, it takes only about 20 minutes to get to Amsterdam Centraal located downtown. Trains depart from platforms 1 and 2 beneath the main arrivals plaza, with frequent service every 10 to 15 minutes between 6:00 am and 1:00 am. The ticket machines were straightforward to identify and operate, and we were in and out of the airport within about half an hour of landing.
What we did in Amsterdam
Ate lots of stroopwafel
Upon our arrival at Amsterdam Centraal and onto the downtown streets, our requisite first stop was to seek out stroopwafel. This delicious and delectable classic Dutch dish consists of thin wafer cookies made of baked dough, joined by a caramel filling.
On both my short stopovers, I went to Banketbakkerji Lanskroon for my fix. This place is so good. They serve other pastries, but of course my recommendation is to try a combination of their regular and coffee caramel stroopwafels. Apparently they are slightly different from the classic stroopwafel as the cookie is crunchier, but they are still so good! It is basically impossible to find stroopwafel in Toronto other than some mediocre grocery store brand, so every trip I’ve made and will make to Amsterdam involves a stop at Banketbakkerji to stock up on my favourite dessert.
Walked along the canals
Amsterdam is made up of a grachten (canal) system spanning over 100 kilometres, including 90 islands and 1500 bridges. The three main canals are called Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht. Forming concentric belts around the city, they were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, and make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grachtengordel.
We spent our morning wandering around Grachtengordel, admiring the canals and picturesque streets.
We found it peacefully quiet even in the city centre, probably because of the minimal traffic noise. Amsterdam is known as one of the world’s most cyclist friendly cities, with an extensive network of bicycle paths. I wish that we had even a semblance of this cycling culture in Toronto; instead, you need to basically have a death wish if you dare to venture out onto the streets with your bike here.
Visited a ‘coffeeshop’
Not to be mistaken for the ones we have at home, serving lattes and such, coffeeshops in Amsterdam act as legal dispensaries for the green stuff. They are tourist attractions of their own, so we checked out a place called Dampkring. Being the innocent bean that I am, I did not partake in anything other than an actual coffee and chilled out with the resident cat instead.
Here’s an interesting article on the rules and etiquette of visiting an Amsterdam coffeeshop.
Shopped for souvenirs
The streets near Amsterdam Centraal station are lined with endless rows of souvenir shops. You can shop to your heart’s content if you’re interested in picking up some clogs, tulip carvings, and other trinkets. However, I think the best souvenirs to bring home are the edible type. I found a small wheel of gouda cheese and of course also brought back a box of those stroopwafel.
Enjoyed lunch with a beer, somewhere
We wrapped up our short day in Amsterdam with lunch and a beer at a patio somewhere along Nieumarkt street. I have no recollection of this other than from this one photo I took, so I guess it was nothing to write home about.
Afterward, it was a quick hop back on the train to the airport to await our long flight back home to Canada. Hopefully one day I’ll be back for a proper trip to Amsterdam and see more of the Netherlands as well!